My mother once wrote me a poem. It spanned many letters, some of which I’ve yet to receive. She wrote them on her deathbed, and I get one delivered each year on my birthday.
Sometimes, in the early morning hours, I think the world is still the same, and I’ll find her in the room down the hall, cuddled in my father’s arms. Then the callous sun magnifies the day, it startles my senses enough to let me know it was just a waking dream—that my mother is dead, and the cruel day has dawned without her.
When I was younger, hardly thirteen, I fell in love with an older boy with the biggest blue eyes—the exact shade of the night sky. Ace Waterman was a god that I venerated for as long as I can remember. His sister, Neva, and I would sneak into his bedroom, she out of spite and me out of sheer idol worship. An inexplicable joy speared through me as I bumped my fingers over his things, his books, his trophies, his glassy marbles stored neat in a jar.
“Hey, kid, whatcha doing?” His dimples invert, and my stomach sinks clear to my knees as if the rollercoaster of life just took a dip. Neva is in the bathroom, so here I am, caught red-handed, alone.
“They’re so pretty.” I run my fingers over the jar of marbles.
“So are you.” He rumples my hair before dropping his book bag. A pinch of grief crosses his face as he reverts his attention back to me. “I’m really sorry about your mom, Reese.” A moment thumps by with our eyes locked, immovable as stone as if they were having their own private conversation. Then he does the unthinkable. Ace pulls me in and wraps his arms around me tight, holding me like that a little longer than I could have hoped for.
It was in that moment I knew I would always want Ace Waterman to hold me—to never let me go.
People—relationships—scatter like birds, leaving you with dusty memories, empty beds, bones in a casket. We don’t get to choose who stays and goes on the planet. We can’t control who stays in our life and under what conditions. Seasons come and go—time presses on. It was this way the summer I was twenty, when I put my heart on a platter to see if the only boy I’ve ever loved would take it—but, first, it seemed logical, and perhaps a bit more safe, to offer up my body.
“What’s the blanket for?” I step into Ace, my eyes never wavering from his immaculate features, his strong arms that might as well be hewn from granite.
“I thought you might get cold.” He shrugs off his efforts like they were no big deal when we both know they were—candles, flowers, and bedding aren’t things typical guys would remember to bring along on a date. Not that what we’re doing is officially dating. Hell, I wish I knew exactly what we were doing.
I run my fingers through his hair in one clean sweep and take in how stunningly gorgeous he is. His chiseled face, those high cut cheeks, the dimples that don’t know when to quit, and his demanding eyes that lay over me like hungry blue flames.
“Why would I get cold, Ace?” I bat my lashes into him, hoping he comes up with the right answer.
“Because tonight you’re going to take off all your clothes.”
Right answer indeed.
Leafless in Loveless
“Heads, we play Monopoly. Tails, we skinny dip.” Ace gives a dirty grin that I wish I could bury the most intimate part of me in. He’s been grazing over my body all night with those navy eyes, the exact shade of the deepest end of the ocean, and my insides have long since melted to cinder.
Skinny dip? I try to hide the smile threatening to bloom on my face.
I’m addicted to Ace. No really, I am. In fact I think they should have rehab and group therapy for girls like me who’ve spent far too long worshiping from afar. Of course, then I’d be forced to confess the constant pornographic reel I have streaming 24-7 about his rock hard body and that dimpled grin that steals a piece of my soul each time it ignites.
“I’m in,” I say in spite of the fact I shouldn’t be anywhere near Ace Waterman, let alone perched on a boulder overlooking the lake. His brand of handsome is dangerous for a girl like me who’s just aching to be devoured.
The lights across the way at my father’s house catch my attention. Kennedy, my stepsister, is hosting a let’s-get-the-hell-wasted ‘welcome to summer party,’ and it seems like all of Yeats University showed up to get boozed and used. Warren is there—and he’s the exact reason I’m not. It’s actually an eighties theme party which would explain the gallon of Aqua Net holding my hair in a skyscraper position and my day-glow blue eye shadow. But I’m not too concerned about embarrassing myself in front of Ace. We’ve known each other forever, growing up on the lake you know just about everybody through all of their ages and stages no matter how embarrassing they might be.
Ace flips the quarter in the air. We watch as it rises to the sky and flirts with the stars pressed against the velvet expanse. It slams back to the boulder we’re sitting on and rolls off unceremoniously, falling into a crevice. In the distance, the water glistens, black as an oil slick, while whispering its secrets into the night. I can feel my own secrets bubbling to my lips like a brook ready and willing to over flow. A part of me wants to blurt out my feelings for him, drop them at his feet like a shattered vase, and watch as he tries to pick up the pieces.
“Tails.” Ace pushes out a killer grin before returning to his serious demeanor. He’s got that come-hither look, those I’m-going-to-teach-you-a-lesson dark, thick brows that drive me insane, and his eyes are a shade that can only be described as an orgasm in blue. Ace has been extra playful all night. The banter between us is a little more sexual than I ever remember—sizzling and electric. Ace has my juices flowing in all the right places.
“Tails never fails.” I can hardly believe the words as they come from my mouth, they float like a dream into the sky, all the way up to heaven, to my mother. I wonder how she would feel if she knew I was contemplating taking off all my clothes and jumping in the lake with a boy she dubbed the Lord of the Ladies.
I always think of my mother in the summer for two reasons: One, she died under a Cheshire cat moon much like this, and two, my father gifts me a letter from her each July on my birthday. She penned those notes during her final days on this spinning blue rock, and I treasure each one, even though I’ve just received five so far.
Ace cuts a glance across the lake at the flickering lights of the party.
“Reese.” His lids hood over, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think he were bedroom eyeing me. “You really want to do this?” He runs his tongue over his full lips, and I let out a breath at the masterpiece that Ace Waterman has become—the one he’s always been. “You think Warren will mind?” He pulls his cheek back as if he were teasing, and I’m more than surprised he went there.
I give a little laugh. “Get real, you couldn’t care less if Warren McCarthy told you to stay the hell away from me or he’d rip your balls off. I’m pretty sure you’re not too worried what he might think of our midnight endeavors.”
A smile cinches up his cheek, and his dimple digs in deep. “You would be wrong.” He breaks out into a full-blown grin, and my stomach bottoms out. “I do care what he thinks because pissing him off is my new favorite hobby. He cut me off on the lake this morning. Only as**oles do that.”
Ace and Warren have rowed competitively ever since we were kids running rampant along the powder-white shores of Loveless. I miss those days when Ace was just like everybody else because we didn’t hold everything to the light of the almighty dollar, especially not people.
“Well then”—I lean into him, inching my lips toward his—“Warren definitely fits the description.”
“So, you dating him?” he asks, lower than a whisper. His shoulder bumps into mine, playfully, as if this were all a game. But, deep down, I wish he cared.
“He follows me wherever I go.” I take the opportunity to rest my head over his rock hard chest. My body goes rigid a moment because, holy hell, I’m touching Ace in ways that I’ve never touched him before. This is huge. But I figure if I want to round out the bases with him, we’ll have to start somewhere, and a face plant into the wall of concrete that is his chest is definitely a great place to do just that. “I guess we’re sort of ambush dating.” Stupid Warren. I hate that he’s even a topic of conversation. Then again, maybe Ace just wants to make sure that my innocent lady parts and me are single and ready to mingle with his far more experienced extra-curricular bits and pieces. Not that I’m accusing him of housing something bitty in his boxers, far from it. I’ve glanced down at his Levis a time or two, and it’s apparent he wields a nightstick. Nevertheless, Ace is a gentleman at heart, unlike Warren who’s probably using beer pong as an excuse to hit on Kennedy’s unsuspecting sorority sisters.
I curl into Ace as if I were snuggling up for the night, and I wish to God I were. Ace feels a thousand times better than I could have ever imagined. His soft breath tangles in my hair, enlivening my senses. His cologne holds a sweet layer that you need to be this close to truly appreciate. And, if I get my way, I’ll be even closer before the night is through. If there were a Worshiping From Afar Anonymous I’m pretty sure every one of its stalker-like members would be cheering me on right now. Not every obsession leads to a life of crime on the streets. In fact, I’m sort of hoping for a life of time under the sheets. The only crime around here is the fact Ace and I haven’t explored a carnal connection as of yet. And that’s exactly what I’m hoping this summer will be about, the summer of sexual rectification.
“Ambush dating.” He rumbles beneath me with a silent laugh. “So are you blue-balling him?”
“Is that code for have we slept together?” I bite over a smile because the conversation just took a turn for the coital, and me and all of my Ace-worshiping girl parts completely approve. “If so, the answer is no.” A tiny surge of hope spirals through me because if he cares about whether or not I’ve slept with Warren, it might mean something. “But I came close at Kristen Woodley’s party last spring,” it speeds out of me like some midnight confessional. “She was serving foot long hotdogs, and I had a sudden craving, but I chickened out last minute—left him na*ed in the bedroom and ran like hell all the way back to my dorm.” Maybe this is a good time to mention the fact I have never seen nor imagined Warren’s ‘foot long,’ in fact, I’m betting there are an entire medley of adjectives to describe his push pop, and foot long isn’t one of them.
“Good deal.” Ace holds up a hand, so I high five him. A spark ignites between us as soon as our skin connects, but we choose to ignore it—easy as ignoring a bonfire in a fireworks factory.
“How about we do some ambush swimming?” Ace peels off his T-shirt, nice and slow, and I watch as the moon illuminates him like a marble statue, nothing but skin over steel. His muscles ripple over his abs like a silent granite sea. His chest looks smooth like sheet rock, and I suddenly have the urge to map out the landscape of his body with my tongue—a task I could easily labor over for weeks. If Ace were willing to let me lap him up like a kitten with a bowl of cream, I wouldn’t rush the effort. Ace is a dessert that’s meant to be savored. If given the opportunity to leech over his abs with my lips, I’d languish for years, drag out the endeavor until the authorities stepped in, I’m sure my father would arrange for that. I can practically hear the theme music to Cops playing on a loop. Crap. For sure if Ace and I were together, I’d make it a point to keep my father in the dark. The last thing I’d want is him ruining my moment with the god of the G-spot. My dad can have Warren and his whole damn family. I just want one person, and that person just so happens to be off my father’s short-list of suitors for his only biological daughter. Not to mention the fact Ace has probably never even seen the inside of the Loveless Country Club—a sin of the highest order when it comes to cold, hard cash contenders for my father’s approval. Not that my father is all about money, he’s just all about Warren McCarthy.
Ace jumps to his feet and starts tugging down his shorts, exposing a glowing line of skin highlighted low around his waist. “You’d better spin around, or you’re about to see another foot long.”
“A foot long, huh? Is that wishful thinking on your part? Are you sure it’s not more of a centimeterpeter?” I tease as I turn toward the granite cliff side in the distance.
“You wish. We’re talking yardstick, baby.”
A splash of water rips through the air, followed by a short-lived howl.
“Get in, girl. It feels like a bath,” he shouts from the lake below.
“I seriously doubt that.” I turn back around and spot his slicked hair reflecting the moonlight like a mirror.
The night air blisters over my skin like an oven. I’m dying to fall into a body of water, but I’m iffy on the whole bearing more than my soul part of the equation. Ace has seen the body of a thousand girls, and not one pair of human eyes has laid eyes on mine.
A part of my mother’s last letter comes back to me, find the ecstasy where you can—catch it by the tail. It’s in those moments you really live. All those other gaps in time are just filler until the next bout of delirium. You could as easily find ecstasy in the silence as you could in a scream, it could be locked in a beautiful flower, the scent of a fragrant spring morning. It could be in a kiss from a beautiful boy. All of those sweet moments make one hell of an adventure. And if life doesn’t offer you an adventure—make one happen.
I love that letter, but it’s always the beautiful boy part that weirds me out a little. I used to cringe at the idea of my mother talking to me about sex at all, and, now, even with her gone, and with me just finishing my freshman year at Yeats, it still feels rigidly uncomfortable. And what boy is beautiful? I glance down at the lake and catch a glimpse of the only boy I have ever loved. His teeth illuminate as if his mouth were backlit with a flashlight, and the fire from that thousand watt grin sears over me like a nuclear heat wave.
Ace is clearly beautiful.
“You coming in?” he calls out. His ebony hair reflects in hues of blue as his face gets lost in the shadows. His chest is heavily glossed, annunciating his perfect-cut abs.
I cinch a smile in my cheek and wonder how the hell I got so lucky tonight.
“Damn straight, I’m coming in.”
I race down to the waterline and duck behind the shadowy pines, plucking and pulling at my clothes until I’m as na*ed as the day I was born. My feet grind into the damp soil as I take in the scent of moist earth and the viral perfume of the evergreens. This is a night I want to remember in detail. I want to soak it into each of my senses and make them regurgitate it back to me with a clarity far beyond any memory, so I can live it again and again—Ace and me na*ed in that black, inky lake.